One group you might see in the stands at Minute Maid Park is a group from the Sunshine Kids. The Astros team-up with this magical organization to help keep their minds off of cancer.
Kayla Mendoza, 15, has been undergoing treatment for leukemia the past year. She loves being a Sunshine Kid.
"I've made it this far, and they've been on my journey to help me through it," says Kayla.
We met up with Kayla and her sister, Kimberly, at the warm and friendly facility of the Sunshine Kids Foundation in southwest Houston.
"It's like another home to me. Everyone is welcoming! Kayla means the world to me, she's my best friend! It's hard to see someone my age, especially my sibling, my sister, my best friend, go through the traumatic experience. Being part of the Sunshine Kids has been fun for our entire family. I like to see all of the e kids interact, get their mind off of what's really going on at home and at the hospital," explains Kimberly.
Jennifer Wisler is part of that loving, welcoming team for families. She's the Executive Director of Sunshine Kids.
"When we started in 1982, the Astros organization came on board to make incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities through player meet and greets and so much more, hosting the families for tickets and meals at the games," explains Jennifer.
The Astros even often welcome them on the field of Minute Maid Park with former Astro and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. It sure means a lot to Kayla!
"The Astros players sign a ball and see them in person. It was so fun. I really liked how they were very sweet and nice and that they're like very loving and caring to the Sunshine Kids, knowing that our situation is very hard to deal with," states Kayla.
Dr. Michael Gleason was a Sunshine Kid decades ago. He survived childhood leukemia and went on to become an oncologist at Texas Children's Cancer Center, where he was cured of cancer.
"I missed out so much as a child in soccer and I couldn't go camping with the Boy Scouts, because of my treatments, but there was trust there with the foundation that there was a medical professional who was going to be there for our events. They felt comfortable with that and the parameters. You have to make sure your labs are okay and all of that, but it was a time where my parents could say ‘yes’. Which when you're going through treatment, you don't always get that! So, it was a way of helping me to be able to go and do some of those things that I hadn't been able to do," says Dr. Gleason.
He believes a healthy dose of fun makes a difference during treatment.
"To be able to go do these really cool things, to go see the Astros play and win, to go meet the players, and then they get to tell their friends about it and their friends are like wow, that's really cool. So, it's just so important in letting them be kids," explains Dr. Gleason.
This whole crew is ready to root for our home team.
"We are so proud of the Houston Astros and thankful for them and all that they have done for Sunshine Kids Foundation and children with cancer everywhere. We couldn't be more excited to cheer them on and they will always be our Hometown Heroes and always world champions to the Sunshine Kids," says a smiling Jennifer.
The Astros are hosting Kayla and her family at the home season opener, so she'll be there in the stands and can't wait! She wraps it up with an enthusiastic, "GO ASTROS!"
For more information: https://www.sunshinekids.org